I’ve been performing for as long as I can remember. Whether on stage as a character, or in life as a “normal” child in spite of my “abnormal” upbringing as a child of same-sex parents, each role I’ve taken on - whether voluntarily or not - has presented a set of unique challenges.
I’ll never forget my first day of kindergarten because it was the day I learned that not everyone had two gay dads, two brothers and a beagle named Hymie. While I suspect my peers were in the midst of their own earth-shattering revelations, my revelation was unique in that there wasn’t a single person in my class, in my grade, or in my school who had same-sex parents. I was the first.
This notion of being the first continued throughout my childhood permeating my life in unique ways that at the time seemed less significant than they do upon reflection. For instance, when I started ballet at age 5, my Pop was told to get me dressed for class in a separate room from my classmates because his presence in the girl’s dressing room made my classmates’ mothers uncomfortable. Or constantly getting asked “where’s your mom?” and having to explain that I have two dads. Then having to correct and inform the inquisitor that my dads were gay when they just assumed my parents were divorced and remarried which resulted in my having two dads. Or not being able to complete the Common Application for college because it required specific information about the applicant’s mother and father – rather than their parents or guardians – a simple change I suggested in the additional essay I had to write as an explanation for my incomplete application.
While being the first wasn’t always easy for me, it was equally as challenging for my parents who were the first in their own right, and subsequently faced challenges from the day I was born – literally. My birthmother lived in a different state so the day after I was born my parents boarded a plane to bring me home with them, and mid-flight one of the flight attendants started asking them where my mother was, and why they were traveling with a newborn. While they attempted to explain, their efforts weren’t successful, and their flight was greeted by the FBI who were responding to a possible kidnapping – reported by the airline. Two years later when my brothers were born, my parents learned their lesson and brought my godmother with them. She sat next to my Pop on the flight home and pretended to be their mother, while my Dad sat one row behind them. There were little challenges too, like having to change my diaper on the floor of an empty stall in the men’s room because changing tables were restricted to women’s restrooms at the time (and in many places still are). And other not-so-little challenges, like when I was 9 and someone spray painted the word “FAGGOT” in big, blue, capital letters on the side of my family’s brownstone. Even more vivid than my parents’ attempt to explain to us what that word meant, was the police’s refusal to classify the act as a hate crime.
In 2017 with shows like “Modern Family” and “Orange is the New Black” where same-sex relationships are depicted as “the norm,” it’s becoming increasingly hard to believe - let alone recall - a time when having same-sex parents wasn’t considered “trendy” or “cool.” But when my two dads met 40 years ago the notion of starting a family as an openly gay couple wasn’t just far-fetched, it was unheard of. Five kids, two birthmothers and four beagles later, my parents not only created a loving family, but raised five children who collectively have no interest, despite having the option and ability, to meet their birthmothers. A phenomenon I can only attribute to my Dad and Pop’s parenting, and their insistence that we be surrounded by strong, female figures (like nannies and Aunts), whose presence likely circumvented the “void” that some children ascribe to not knowing their birth parents.
When I graduated college in 2014 and realized that people were still shocked to learn that I have two gay dads, I knew it was important for me to use my unique position as a child of same-sex parents to contribute to the “normalization” of families like mine – something that as a child I had always yearned to do, but at the time lacked the resources to accomplish. Combining my love of performing with my desire to provoke social change is what lead me to write Upstream Swimming, a one-woman show about what growing up with same-sex parents is really like. Writing and performing Upstream Swimming provided me with a unique outlet where I can not only share my story with strangers, but can share my experience as a child of same-sex parents with members of the LGBTQ community who continue to fear the repercussions of a less “traditional” family dynamic when deciding whether or not to start a family of their own. The show, not unlike most of my childhood experiences, is the first of its kind and will be taking part in this year’s FRIGID Festival from February 16th – March 4th, and same-sex couples who attend the show together can see it for free.
While as an adult I continue to be challenged by my “untraditional” family dynamic, the challenges have become far less taxing than they are personally shocking that I’ve continued to encounter them. Like having to verify my identity by providing my mother’s maiden name – something that not just I, but any American who doesn’t have a mother, or whose mother never changed her name – can’t do. And I find it hard to believe that in 2017 we can’t come up with an equal or better method to prove one’s identity that doesn’t exclude part of the population in the process.
Although I continue to be encouraged by the progress being made by and for the LGBTQ community, progress that I know will continue to dismantle the still widely held belief that a child is best raised by a mother and a father in a “traditional” family, as the successful product of a family that breaks with tradition, I feel it’s my responsibility to insure such progress continues. And the best way I know how to do that is by sharing my story with others, and encouraging potential same-sex parents that the only way to alter society’s understanding of what it means to be a “normal” family, is to redefine it.